Earth Day highlights need for action at critical time for climate

Earth Day

The 44th Earth Day has sparked calls to action around the world. Creative Commons: NASA Earth Observatory, 2000

More than a billion people worldwide celebrated this year’s Earth Day – the 44th anniversary of the annual event – and true to the iconic day’s history, the annual event galvanised strong global calls for action.

Australia kicked off Earth Day with a focus on education, organising a host of activities for children and teachers.

In Europe, a variety of projects across the continent have taken place, proving that citizens want a cleaner, healthier planet for all.

The “Make It Count” campaign is once again the focus of action in Canada.

In the US, The Climate Reality Project has organised a “thunderclap” where supporters can donate their Facebook pages to spread the word about the importance of coal regulation.

Earth Day is also the day when the Cowboy Indian Alliance will arrive on the National Mall in Washington, DC to begin their encampment protesting against the Keystone XL pipeline.

44 years of inaction

The first Earth Day was organised in 1970 to help promote ecology and respect for life on the planet, as well as encourage awareness of growing problems of air, water and soil pollution.

44 year’s on and whatever country or continent you live on, the day comes at a time when the climate needs more help than ever before.

It comes just weeks after the world’s top scientists met in Japan and then again in Germany to issue several dire warnings about the planet’s future if climate action isn’t taken soon.

Following such scientific warnings, Climate Central used new charts in the US to highlight just how far the planet has come since the original Earth Day.

Using an interactive graphic, it mapped the average temperature increase across the continental US, which have been rising gradually for more than a century at a rate of around 0.127°F per decade between 1910-2012.

Source: Climate Central

Source: Climate Central

The US trends parallel an overall increase in average global temperatures across the same period, largely as a result of human greenhouse gas emissions.

The event also galvanised worldwide calls for climate action.

UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon marked the day with a strong call for the world to wake up to the impact of unsustainable resource use and the role fossil fuels play in causing climate change.

He said changing our attitudes to climate change will be vital to protect the planet for the future.

He also stressed that creating sustainable energy could not only help protect the climate but would improve health and wealth for people across the world.

He said:

We need a global transformation of attitude and practice. It is especially urgent to address how we generate the energy that drives our progress. Burning fossil fuels is the principal cause of climate change, which increasingly threatens prosperity and stability in all regions.

Climate Policy is at a crossroads.

In the US Earth Day comes ahead of much anticipated regulations on coal power plants and amid continued delays on a decision on the Keystone XL Pipeline, while in Europe, candidates standing in the upcoming Parliamentary elections are under pressure to support strong climate and energy targets.

With 2014 already marked as the year for climate ambition, and with the Secretary General’s leaders summit to be hosted this September, there is no time to delays, and national actions will be vital to driving climate ambition in the run up to the UN climate meeting in Paris in 2015.

Role of cities

The official Earth Day Network is used this year’s event to promote the Green Cities Campaign.

It focused on the ways cities can improve their buildings, energy use and transportation, and acted as a reminder of the difference that can be made by improving the world’s urban centres.

More than half of the world’s population now lives in cities, and with urban populations expected to continue to grow and the effects of climate change expected to worsen, cities have to evolve.

As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently pointed out, by investing in efficiency and renewable energy, and rebuilding our cities and towns, we can begin to solve the climate crisis.

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